My friend Fredric Alan Maxwell’s new unauthorized biography of Steve Jobs will be released shortly. I find Jobs fascinating for a number of reasons – his passion, his creativity, the role psychedelics played in his intellectual formation, his iconic status, and his branding acumen. I’m moving more toward Apple products, yet also find Apple to be, basically, a corporate cult. But I guess that’s what happens when you’re really good at design, marketing and branding (internally and externally.)
Fredric is a PopTech alum who authored Bad Boy Ballmer and (no, this is not a nonsequitur) was tailed by the Secret Service for allegedly threatening the President in a bar. The President was not in the bar at the time. [See New York Times, “Spooked”, 4/27/03]. It now seems clear that someone who was out to get him (while he was out digging up dish on Ballmer) phoned in the “tip.”
Fredric sent me an excerpt from his new book, in which he discusses Jobs’ life, and reveals the identity of Jobs’ biological father:
“My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption,â said Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple Computer and Pixar Animation Studios, in his commencement address at Stanford University in June. âShe felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: âWe have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?â They said: âOf course.â My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.â
While this anecdote made a compelling opening for Jobsâ bravura speech to a football stadium full of new college graduates and their parents, the details that Jobs left out are even more intriguing. The missing piece is the identity of his biological father, whose strange story, uncovered here for the first time, provides fresh insight into the sources of character that have made Steve Jobs one of the greatest icons of American business.
The familyâs saga is also a revealing case study in the classic debate of nature vs. nurture. Jobsâ personality â his intelligence, creativity, ambitiousness, charm, egomania, iconoclasm, and risk-taking â seems drawn almost entirely from those of his birth parents, whom he never knew growing up, rather than the adoptive parents who raised him. And it turns out that Jobs, arguably the most fascinating figure in both Silicon Valley and Hollywood, can make yet another claim to exceptionalism: he is the most prominent living Arab-American. His biological father, Abdulfattah Jandali, immigrated from his native Syria at the age of 21 in 1952.
His identity was outed, albeit obscurely, by Jobsâ sister, Mona Simpson, the critically-acclaimed, best-selling novelist. She was born two and a half years after Jobs to the same parents, who chose to keep and raise their second child.
Jobs is very different from his adoptive parents, but apparently much more similar to his birth parents. In exploring this, Fredric touches on an issue that fascinates me – that of nature vs. nurture. I’m fascinated by this topic not because I’m adopted – I’m not – but because I’ve somehow grown up with a markedly different worldview and personality than my parents or my brother. I am a first-born also. My father was not around at all beyond my very early years (and not much during the first few), so that by itself makes for an interesting comparison. I certainly see some similarities between my mom, brother and I (especially mom), but the differences are much more apparent.